Electric car sales seem poised for big jump: Can our grid take the load?

TORONTO - - By day, Alec Tsang works as a senior technology analyst at BC Hydro, where he's the public utility's point person on electric cars.

Most nights, you can find his family's all-electric Nissan Leaf plugged in and charging up.

And they are far from alone: Canada has nearly 20,000 plug-in vehicles on its roads and counting. If provinces achieve their targets, as part of the broader effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions, there will be more than 500,000 electric passenger cars on the road come 2020.

It raises the question: Can the country's electricity systems handle the added load?

"We started looking at this quite early on, as far back as 2007," Tsang said of BC Hydro's efforts.

One study by the University of Victoria's Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions found that even in winter, when electricity demand is highest, B.C. had the unused capacity on its grid to charge nearly 2.4 million light-duty vehicles — almost all the 2.8 million registered vehicles in the province.

"Even the most optimistic projections of electric vehicle adoption still represent a really gradual load growth on utilities' grids," Tsang said. "So in terms of generation and transmission, that large perspective, most utilities wouldn't have any problem meeting that demand."

Hydro-Québec calculated that an electric car would use about the same amount of energy in an average year as a hot-water heater, and is just as confident about its ability to meet overall electricity needs.

"We did our homework and we could easily, in Quebec, welcome a million electric vehicles without having to make any major investments in our infrastructure or systems," spokesman Louis-Olivier Batty said.

"It would be two to three per cent of electricity sales in the province."

A million electric vehicles would also be 10 times Quebec's already ambitious goal of having 100,000 such cars on its roads by 2020 — in other words, from a generating and transmission standpoint, the province has nothing to fret over.



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